In the immortal words of Paul Simon, some people claim, “It’s all happening at the zoo.” The venerable pop and folk legend goes on to describe a land where elephants, orangutans, giraffes, and all the other creatures one would find there are happy to see him and the other visitors. As it would turn out, though, Simon and Garfunkel’s “At The Zoo” is merely one of the many fun, catchy songs that simply don’t resonate with reality in the slightest.
The only part of Simon’s song that gets it right is that a whole lot is indeed happening down at your local zoo. Unfortunately, comically plotting pigeons and kindly-but-dumb elephants have nothing to do with the problem, although the assertion that zookeepers must be fond of rum might have some truth in it. Quite frankly, there’s no other way to explain how the average zoo proprietor sleeps at night, knowing full well how much damage they’re doing to every single animal literally encaged within their walls.
Our intention in presenting this information isn’t to castigate anyone who owns a zoo, nor the public visitors who attend such establishments. The purpose of this article is simply to inform, an attempt at making the general public aware of just how bad the average zoo is to the many animal residents forced to live in them. Ultimately, whether or not a person wishes to continue supporting and visiting zoos after reading these words is a personal choice and not one we’re looking to judge. That said, before you make such a decision, keep reading for 15 reasons you should think twice before going to the zoo.
15. Zoos Lie About Conserving And Helping The Planet
Alright, so we already covered how zoos alleging to inform the public about animals and the world around us, in general, are overstated at best, and now, it’s time to do the same with any arguments about zoos helping to conserve the planet. This suggestion is even less truthful than claiming zoos are educational tools, as studies show fewer than 1% of zoos are involved in any sort of conservation effort that’s actually working. For the most part, zoos are able to pretend they’re working towards conservation by housing endangered animals and keeping their populations alive. However, conservation geneticists reject this argument due to the fact most zoo-bred species wind up inbred before long, with no genetic integrity. This means that released back into the wild, the animals can’t continue to repopulate their species for long without changing their biodiversity enormously.
14. Questionable Forced-Breeding Habits At Zoos
Since the last item on this list mentioned the strange-yet-accepted practice of zoos essentially forcing animals to breed, let’s give it a closer look for a second and consider just how weird it is. Granted, animals aren’t the same as humans, and forced breeding can, at times, simply be an issue of getting a few males and females of the same species in the same place at the same time. On second thought, that might make them exactly like humans. In any event, were this practice solely performed to keep an endangered animal species on the map, there would be no harm nor foul. However, it’s far more common for a zoo to force animals to breed for a different reason, that being attendance always goes up when there’s a new baby panda in the park. Because greedy proprietors simply want money, they ignore the fact this doesn’t help the species at all and ensure their creatures continue cranking out babies to keep the numbers up.
13. Zoos Aren’t Big Enough For Most Creatures
Just about any zoo a person visits has one, two, or maybe even a couple dozen enclosures so large a single human can barely see the whole thing at once. In the best zoos, it may be genuinely impossible to take in an entire elephant den, which shouldn’t be that surprising, given the giant size of the animal. That said, these zoos are still nowhere near the same size as a jungle plain somewhere in Africa. When it comes to lions and tigers, studies show they have 18,000 times less space when living in a zoo than they would in the wild. It’s even worse for polar bears, who are forced in enclosures an entire million times smaller than what they would have in the Arctic. On the subject of elephants, the United Kingdom keeps them in such small zoos that only 16% of their population could walk properly. Basically, short of making the entire jungle a zoo, animals will never have enough space in them.
12. Keeping Animals In Captivity Changes Their Natural Behavior
After that last entry, some readers may be thinking animals not having the entire jungle to prowl around in isn’t that big a deal. They clearly still have a whole lot of space, and that should probably suffice, right? Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. According to animal psychologists, nearly half of all elephants, lions, and tigers kept in captivity exhibit some sort of behavior problems. The most common issue is stereotypy, chronically repeating the same activity due to boredom. Basically, animals are pacing around back and forth because they don’t have enough space to actually run, explore, and do what they want to do. This is the exact same behavior seen by unstable prisoners in solitary confinement. For anyone who thinks animals being depressed isn’t as big an issue as when it happens to humans, we regret to inform you some lions have actually resorted to self-mutilation in these conditions. It’s even worse amongst fish kept in aquariums, amongst which 90% are considered to exhibit neurotic behavior.
11. When Animals Attack
Up until this point, our list has been focusing on the reason zoos are bad from an animal’s perspective, something that might not get the point across to less empathetic readers. If that’s you, perhaps it would help to think about things in human terms. In the wild, animals can be violent, vicious hunters seeking out their prey, yet they almost never harm humans unless provoked in some way. Like, say, being placed in a cage so children can poke and prod them with pointy sticks. For this reason, animal attacks in zoos are far more common than animal attacks in the great outdoors. Of course, this should be pretty obvious, as the establishments are unnaturally forcing divergent species to occupy the same confined spaces. The issue here isn’t just people failing to contain animals safely, as even the greatest whale trainers in the world have died working for SeaWorld, and those are just the most famous examples of this type of thing happening.
10. “Unnecessary” Animals Get Killed For No Reason
It’s bad enough that the way zoos treat animals lowers their life spans and makes them wish they were dead until the inevitable happens. Much worse than that is the fact that some zoos have taken to the practice of deeming certain animals “unnecessary” due to their genetic incompatibility with others in their tribe. If this meant they simply stopped forcing the animal to breed, that might actually be a good thing, but instead, some zoos feel like these allegedly obsolete creatures deserve the death penalty, creating a warped Twilight Zone to the animal kingdom. Definitely, the most infamous example of this practice was the short life of Marius the giraffe, kept at the Copenhagen zoo. Because Marius was unnecessary to the zookeepers’ “conservation efforts,” they decided to kill him and feed his corpse to the other animals in the park. Rare though the practice may be, that it even happened once is cause for concern to zoo-goers everywhere.
9. Animals Don’t Want To Be There
Let’s dive headfirst into a very obvious issue that every zookeeper and patron should openly be aware of, and yet, for some reason, choose to ignore. Like everything created by humans, zoos didn’t exist until we invented them, and animals had absolutely no say in the decision to suddenly start being kept in cages, on show. Because animals can’t talk, people assume they must be happy, even when locked behind bars, by themselves, ripped away from their families, or herds, if you want to be less dramatic about it. In this respect and several others, zoos are animal jails, except the creatures locked up in them were sent there solely for human amusement. Do some animals adapt and find happiness in pleasing people like most zookeepers may claim? Perhaps. Unfortunately, though, animal psychologists find such behavior extremely rare, and as this list continues, we’ll go into the specifics of why that is.
8. Zoos Are Failing As Educational Tools
A more balanced report on the existence of zoos may have given readers a few pros and cons on the subject, yet this article made the choice to go wholly negative. The reason for this is that any “pros” about the existence of zoos often prove flimsy and meaningless when placed under the microscope. The first example of this is the argument that zoos are essential educational tools, especially for children wanting to learn everything they can about exotic animals living in habitats they may never otherwise see. In theory, that’s all well and good, but it falls apart in practice for many actual establishments. A study of British zoos, in particular, found that a shockingly low 41% of aquariums offered any information whatsoever about the aquatic life it housed, and while this might be an extreme example, it can’t be a total outlier. Countless other zoos also fail to provide any information on the animals inside, only serving as a cash grab for greedy humans who want to watch them sleep in a cage.
7. SeaWorld Isn’t Alone In What They Do
While this article is doing its best to present readers with all the information on why zoos are terrible, we must admit there are larger details and statistics elsewhere that we simply don’t have time to get into. For anyone looking for further information, one source they may want to check out is the documentary Blackfish. Of course, given that film’s popularity, there’s a good chance you already have. If not, simply know the film tells the story of Tilikum, a killer whale held captive at SeaWorld for many years, despite the fact he started killing several of his trainers. It shows how dangerous and unnatural it is to keep wild animals in cages, and the larger message to consider is that SeaWorld is hardly the only zoological establishment to undergo such practices. In fact, every single zoo in the world is doing the exact same thing and deserves the same level of scrutiny.
6. Select Zookeepers Have Been Abusive And Uncaring
In all fairness to zookeepers around the world, not all of them are angry businessmen and women who don’t care at all about the animals under their care. Plenty of zookeepers genuinely love animals and try their hardest to undercut the issues this list is bringing up to make the experience as close to acceptable as possible. Unfortunately, the exact opposite also exists: zookeepers who seemingly got into the business solely to beat animals up and abuse them for pleasure. Alright, so that might be an exaggeration at times, but there are certainly some zookeepers out there who are in it just for the money and who basically leave their inhabitants to fend for themselves. Others expect the animals to do tricks for crowds, a process that can often include prodding and, in extreme cases, even electrical shocks that condition the animals into the behavior. Not all zoos are this bad, but if the rest of our points haven’t swayed you yet, at least look into the practices of whatever one you’re thinking about visiting and make sure they aren’t abusive.
5. Living There Also Kills The Animals
Depending on how well a person understands depression, that last entry may not have been all too disturbing. Even if a person has experienced depression himself or herself, it may be hard to understand how animals can go through the same emotions, since they can’t communicate the same way we can. If that’s the case, there’s still the issue that living in zoos dramatically lowers animal life spans, regardless of how they feel about the matter. African elephants, for example, on average, survive three times longer in the wild than they do when kept in zoos. Lion cubs face a smaller deviance, with 40% dying before adulthood in zoos versus 20% in the wild, yet the difference is more pronounced when considering most of the natural deaths occur to predators, while the zoos’ problems are entirely separate. Plenty of other animal populations face the same features, showing across the board that animals living in zoos don’t live as long as those running free.
4. Zoos Cost Way More Than They’re Worth
This article has been coming down pretty hard on zookeepers — and with good reason — but let’s just pretend for a minute all their arguments about zoos being educational, conservational, friendly places of business are all true. Even if that were all the case, there’s still the issue of money and the fact they’re extremely expensive to operate. Some studies have suggested it’s as much as 50 times more costly to maintain animals in captivity than it is to simply send scientists to their environment to study them and keep an eye on things. The difference, of course, is that average everyday people will have more of a struggle at enjoying animals in person — that and the fact zookeepers won’t get to make any money on the process, as the money they make from ticket sales more than justifies the high cost of bringing animals into their cages and putting them on display.
3. People Barely Understand How To Take Care Of Animals
Despite everything this article has suggested thus far, we imagine there are still some people caught up on the whole “zoo animals are depressed” issue and wondering what the big deal is. We already covered that for people who don’t understand psychology in general, but to any skeptics out there thinking the issue isn’t a lack of psychological comprehension but rather a failure to understand animals in general, this one’s for you. To put it bluntly, people with this reservation are entirely correct, and we can’t be entirely sure any humans truly know exactly what animals are thinking. While this might put our earlier points into question, another way to look at this information is to accept the fact humans also will never perfectly master the idea of raising and breeding animals and maintaining their natural environment. There are thousands of great veterinarians and animal experts out there, but the best ones will tell patients that humans can only do so much to match the wild and that animals, by and large, would be better off on their own than with our intervention.
2. Much Better Alternatives Exist
If you’ve made it this far on the list and we still haven’t convinced you that zoos aren’t all that great, it’s probably because none of our arguments outweigh you or your children’s desire to see a panda bear in person. Truth be told, we totally understand the impulse because who wouldn’t want to see a panda live and in person? Or an elephant, giraffe, gorilla, lion, tiger, bear… (oh my, how the list goes on)? What some people may not realize, however, is that there are other options outside of zoos much safer for the animals and morally acceptable for the attendees. While not nearly as widespread as zoos or aquariums, there are also nature reserves, national parks, wildlife refuges, and actual safari tours that fulfill the same purpose without harming anything. Of course, depending on where one lives, they can also be wildly more expensive or impractical to visit, so if you still want to visit your local zoo, we won’t stop you. Just remember…
1. Animals Aren’t Entertainment
Ultimately, none of the facts this list has outlined matter all that much in the long run, as the biggest and most blatant reason is that zoos are, generally speaking, a bad thing. The entire purpose of a zoo is to profit off of animals, treating the creatures’ very existence as entertainment. Attendees get angry when the tigers are sleeping in their cages; visitors demand a show even though the animals obviously aren’t getting paid to put one on, let alone even aware they’re supposed to be. No matter how much money zoos make, the actual “performers” who jump through hoops and “play” with their trainers never get compensated with anything except imprisonment. That said, the money isn’t even the issue; nor could it be. The problem is that animals are being forced against their will to entertain people, a concept they cannot possibly ever comprehend, causing all these other problems and then some. This is one jailhouse rock we just can’t dance to.
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